NEW YORK – Check out Sushma Swaraj’s twitter feed from this month. Interspersed with her meetings with foreign counterparts, from Iran and Kyrgyz Republic, and attending celebrations at the Embassy of Japan – to commemorate the Imperial Succession, are interactions with strangers asking for help, concern for others in distress.
An Indian national, Sheetal Shah, pleaded for help after her husband and son’s passports got stolen in Barcelona, while on vacation. Swaraj promptly responded, intimating the matter to India’s Ambassador in Spain, Sanjay Verma, with the note: ‘Sanjay – Here is an Indian family in distress. Pls help and guide them.’
In another tweet, Swaraj takes cognizance of a report in The Times of India that a German national, Friederike Irina Bruning, who was awarded the Padma Shri, was denied a visa extension, to continue her work to care for sick cows in India. Swaraj asked for a report in the matter, presumably to help Bruning.
Swaraj responded with alacrity to another request for help, from a man named Prateek Rampuria, who wrote asking for help to get a passport get made for his grandmother, who is 85 years old. He wants to see her visit ‘abroad’. He posted a picture of the octogenarian. Swaraj suggested he apply for a passport for his ‘dadi sa’ with the documents she has, an aadhaar card and voter ID.
It’s not just the month of May that Swaraj has taken time out on Twitter to do the right thing for ordinary Indian nationals and others, mostly who believe that the closest interaction they could likely have with an exalted minister or revered politician in the Indian government was either hear him or her at an election rally. If not watch the proceedings on TV.
Swaraj changed that notion on its head, via social media. Bridged that great divide with consummate ease.
In the five years she’s selflessly dedicated to India, to serve her country and citizens, it’s been her trademark, patented style: a steady gush of compassion, warmth, decency and generosity, to try help ordinary folks.
It’s in these past five years that many NRIs have felt they really matter to India, too. That somebody is out there to take care of them when in trouble, are in dire need of help. The ones Swaraj helped, are no doubt, grateful beyond words for her timely action.
Officially, Swaraj had enough on her plate. It’s not been an easy task to cope up with the energy and exuberance of globe-trotting Modi, who in his first term as Prime Minister visited some 90 odd countries.
Swaraj was alongside Modi on most of those trips, made many other trips on her own, gaining in popularity, earning great respect, year after year in office. She handled adeptly myriad conflicts with Pakistan and China, which escalated in the last five years.
Today, the 66-year-old Swaraj has over 12.8 million Twitter followers – most of it gained during her five years in office.
Swaraj made Twitter itself more meaningful and relevant in India, gave it respect as a vehicle for communication, not just spreading news, opinionating or trolling. Millions of Indians know today that if there is one senior politician approachable for the common man, willing to go out of her way to help, it’s unquestionably her.
If Modi was the overwhelming choice to be India’s Prime Minister for a second term, Swaraj is not too far behind as the most popular politician in the government, a terrific role model for women. She will go down in history books as perhaps, the most likeable minister ever in India’s post-independence history.
Swaraj has had a stellar political career so far. Her path-breaking achievements include being the youngest cabinet minister in the Haryana government, the first woman Delhi chief minister, and only the second Indian woman to hold the External Affairs Minister post after Indira Gandhi, who had done dual duties briefly while being the Prime Minister.
Swaraj has bowed out of public life for now because of health reasons. One can only wish her speedy recovery and a quick return back to public service. It’s not too far-fetched an idea to get her back into the Indian Cabinet as minister handling NRI/PIO issues.
Modi and chief confidant Amit Shah have played a smart hand in getting a career diplomat like Subrahmanyam Jaishankar to helm the foreign ministry. No other politician in the NDA government would have measured up to the legacy and stature of Swaraj.
In the belligerent era of Trump, and uneasy relations with both China and Pakistan, with tensions flaring up sometimes inexplicably over minor irritants, India has found an outstanding diplomat to try navigate the country safely through international choppy waters.
The former Foreign Secretary Jaishankar, who speaks Mandarin, Tamil, Hindi, and a bit of Japanese and Hungarian, served as Indian Ambassador to the United States (2014-15) and China (2009-13), among other stints overseas.
Jaishankar made many friends on Capitol Hill during his stint in Washington, DC. Many legislators will remember the instrumental role he played in negotiating for India’s Civil Nuclear agreement with the US. However, it’s likely, that Modi’s decision in favor of Jaishankar was based also on his interaction with him when he visited the US in 2014, after assuming office as the Prime Minister, and got an overwhelming response from the community, especially at Madison Square Garden.
It’s adieu Sushma Swaraj. Welcome Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.
One can only hope that like Jaishankar, who retired in 2018, and has been given a new life, Swaraj too makes a grand comeback. India and Indians need her.
(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)